Ready for my rant about autobiographies?
First of all, what’s the difference between an autobiography and a memoir? “Memoir” sounds slightly less-absorbed, but is still someone talking about themselves for hundreds of pages. When normal people do it, it’s called a “diary” and don’t nobody want to read that shit.
Actually, this definition from Writer’s Digest is illuminating: “An autobiography focuses on the chronology of the writer’s entire life while a memoir covers one specific aspect of the writer’s life.” So if you’re in your 20’s and writing a memoir, that’s pretty much going to cover most of your life, although it seems most people could write a dissertation on their high school years.
Second, even famous people with glamorous, exciting lives have nothing interesting or insightful to say.
This may be a terrible blindspot of mine, but I rarely read memoirs, and if I do, they’re going to be audiobooks, read by the author, and usually by funny women (see list below).
I read an author interview by Mara Wilson, eternally doomed to be known as “that girl from Matilda” and she seemed like a funny, smart person, and I loved Matilda, so I decided to give her memoir, Where Am I Now? a go.
Mara Wilson is smart and funny. She brackets her book by enumerating her passion for storytelling. She tells fun stories about being a child in Hollywood and learning about sex and heart-rending ones such as losing her mother to cancer at a young age and being diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Although at times she tilts towards myopic self-absorption, she balances this with extreme self-deprecation.
One always assumes performers love the limelight, so it’s startling to hear about their insecurities even in the face of success and talent. It might give us the illusion that with a little luck we too can be shining stars. But it also reminds us that celebrities (of any status) are still people, and that we should be careful with our words and actions, because behind the performer is a human being too.
- I listened to the audiobook. While at work, I accidentally began playing it in front of an office full of dudes just as Wilson said the word “naked.” The guys were all “ooh, what are you listening to?” and I said a memoir by the girl from Matilda, showing them the book cover, which is Mara Wilson as a little girl. Their faces fell and they shut up real fast.
- What’s the difference between an autobiography and a memoir? “Memoir” sounds slightly less-absorbed, but is still someone talking about themselves for hundreds of pages. When normal people do it, it’s called a “diary” and don’t nobody want to read that shit.